Lot of people died last couple of weeks. Big deal, lot of people die every week. Maybe you’re upset over what you’re seeing on the evening news, maybe you don’t care. Maybe it’s simply made you think about the passage of time, getting older, losing things that mean something to you… who knows. In my usual cruising around for Shakespeare material I tripped across something that struck a chord, particularly this week, that I thought I’d share.
To me, fair Friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters’ cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride;
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceived;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceived:
For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred,—
Ere you were born, was beauty’s summer dead.
I can’t even say I fully understand that one yet (it’s Sonnet 104, by the way). It jumped at me entirely because it’s one of those opening lines that pops so well. I like when Shakespeare goes head to head with Time, Death and immortality. This is no Sonnet 18, but in a way it’s like Shakespeare gives us our own personal “So long lives this” moment. These days we’d say something like “here’s how I’d like to remember this person.” If you’re a fan of Michael Jackson, do you prefer video of him in his later crazy years, or at his peak? Only it’s got a whole different meaning because you’re saying it to the person while they’re still alive – to me you’ll never grow old, because you’re still as beautiful as the first time I saw you. Sounds like the kind of thing you might tell your wife after 50 years of marriage. (Although truthfully even after 50 years of marriage I don’t think I could pull it off without hearing “Are you saying I look old?” 🙂 ) It’s quite possible that this one goes on to say the exact opposite. But I’m not in the mood to care. I like the opening, and I will take it to mean what I want today. Know what I mean? [ Whoa, here’s something scary. While looking up backing references I found this interpretation:
The speaker addresses his poem as “fair friend,” but then makes it clear immediately that this “fair friend” is not a human friend, by asserting “you never can be old.” Such a claim cannot be averred about a human being, and as the reader has seen many times, while this speaker often exaggerates, he never diverts his eye and hand from truth.
… The speaker is addressing a poem that he wrote three years ago, and he declares that the beauty of this poem is as evident as when he first “ey’d” it. Even after “three winters cold” which changed the “forests” that shone with “summer’s pride, the poem is fresh with the beauty of youth.
And this one:
Here the poet uses his fond memories of first meeting his lover as inspiration to write the poem. It is clear from Sonnet 104, and the other Sonnets as a whole, that the passion he feels for his male lover (possibly the Earl of Southampton), is the most intense experience the poet has ever encountered. Nothing is important but his lover; his lover is eternal, both in beauty and spirit.
Funny how different they can be, huh? ]